Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 10: Guarding, Protecting and Spoiling

Guarding, Protection and Spoiling 

 

Guarding and protecting are not necessarily bad character traits in a dog but they certainly can become problematic and, in some cases, highly dangerous. While this topic has a degree of overlap with Dominance, I wanted to give guarding and protecting its own chapter because even dogs that are generally not dominant in nature may attempt to guard, protect or compete for certain resources. Let’s have a quick look at some examples: 

 

Resource Guarding (Possession, Jealousy) 

  • Food: Can include dog food or even an empty dog dish or the area around the dog dish. May also include treats, bones, human food dropped on the floor, scraps scavenged from the trash or found on the ground, etc. 
  • Toys: Can include dog toys as well as things that you didn’t buy for the dog but that the dog sees as “toys” such as sticks, shoes, socks, tissues, trash, etc. 
  • People: Dogs will often guard or compete for a person. This is sometimes a “protective” behavior, as in the dog is protecting the person from a perceived threat. However, this is more commonly an act of jealousy or possessiveness, as in the dog is not protecting the human from harm, the dog is claiming the human for themselves. Possessive behavior could be considered Dominance because the person, and the affection they provide, is a limited resource that the dog is attempting to claim priority access to. 
  • Spaces: Resting, sleeping and feeding areas are common spaces that dogs tend to guard. Areas around the dog bed, couch, crate/kennel, dishwasher, dog dish, etc. They may guard these spaces from other dogs as well as people. 
  • Anything the dog finds valuable or important can be a resource worthy of guarding, protecting, possessing or competing for.

Territoriality  

  • Protecting their territory and/or family from potential or perceived threats is instinctive to many dogs. 
  • Dogs will often display aggression in their own territory that is not seen elsewhere. 
  • This could be the house, yard, car, kennel, neighborhood or anywhere perceived as their territory. 
  • Often adopted dogs will start showing territorial aggression around the home several weeks or months after adoption because, at first, they did not see it as their territory.  

Guarding and protecting are not necessarily bad character traits in a dog. In fact, there are many times when those are exactly the traits people want from a dog. Some people get dogs specifically to be guard dogs or for protection. However, if a dog is not controllable, we have a problem. If the owners can’t get the dog to stop protecting or guarding on command or the resource guarding is directed towards the owners themselves or the family dogs are fighting with each other over resources, we have guarding or protecting issues that would be considered unwanted or inappropriate. When these behaviors are allowed to go unchecked it can become a very serious and dangerous problem. 

 

There are specific exercises that can be done for specific issues, such as aggression around the dog dish. However, in many cases, there is a broader range of guarding and protecting behaviors at play because the dog is lacking a solid foundation in balanced training and proper leadership. Often the relationship with the owner is off, usually due to “spoiling” the dog.

 

Spoiling
 

I say this with love, but let’s face it, most dog owners are great at “spoiling” their dogs with affection and goofing around but not so great at providing much else…other than food and shelter. In other words, they are not so great at providing leadership and true fulfillment and tend to think that “love” is all the dog should need to be happy and content. 

 

“What’s wrong with spoiling my dog? I just love him so much!”  

 

I think I’ll allow the dictionary to answer that: 

 

Spoil /spoil/ 

verb 

  1. diminish or destroy the value or quality of.: synonyms: mar, damage, impair, blemish, disfigure, blight, flaw, deface, scar, injure, harm, ruin, destroy, wreck, be a blot on the landscape, disfeature
  2. harm the character of (someone, especially a child) by being too lenient or indulgent.: synonyms: overindulge, pamper, indulge, mollycoddle, cosset, coddle, baby, spoon-feed, wait on hand and foot, cater to someone's every whim, overparent, kill with kindness, nanny, nursemaid, dote on, wrap in cotton wool, feather-bed, cocker

Well, there you have it, simple and blunt. I don’t think it could be made much clearer that spoiling is bad for the dog’s character. Not my words, by the way, that is a copy and paste from the dictionary. 

 

Tough Love Alert: Before reading further, know this: I love you, you are a good person, everything I say is meant to be helpful…but it might sting a little. 

 

Here's the problem; most people, consciously or subconsciously, view dogs as nothing more than a source of affection and entertainment. Yes, I agree, dogs are very entertaining and a great source of affection. What do you think I am, dead inside or something? Wait, don’t answer that. For the record, I’ll have you know that I too enjoy sharing affection with dogs and find them super entertaining. However, if you only view the dog as a source of affection and entertainment, don’t be surprised if you have behavioral problems, including uncontrollable resource guarding and territorial aggression. You may even find that the dog shows aggression towards you, yes you, the one who has shared “nothing but love” with the dog. This too, will come as no surprise once you wrap your head around the fact that you have been holding an incomplete view of your dog. 

 

Here’s something I bet you never thought about; what if the way you view the dog is mirrored back to you by the dog, you know, like an instant karma sort of thing? What if the dog also only sees you as a source of affection and entertainment? How would that make you feel? Hmm, did I just blow your mind? Are you having an “aha” moment? Think about it, do you expect a dog that sees you as nothing more than an “affectionate clown” to respect you or see you as an authority figure or obey your commands? Probably not, right? Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising if the dog guards you as though you are his possession or guards his possessions from you or that you can’t stop the dog from going overboard when it comes to territorial aggression. This is all because dogs are basically domesticated wolves. The bond created between humans and dogs over the tens of thousands of years is nothing short of amazing but, amazing as that is, domestication has not removed the wolf from your dog. In other words, your dog is not a “fur-baby” that was only put on earth for your entertainment and stroking pleasure. Sure, some dogs are just sweet little love bugs that will make a liar out of me but, on the whole, dogs have a wild side that will show up now and then and remind you that I speak the truth.  

 

No matter how much it comes from a place of love, it is disrespectful and dangerous to view dogs through the lense of being nothing more than an affectionate clown. If you have only “loved” your dog by sharing affection, you have probably fallen quite a bit short when it comes to fulfilling your dog’s true needs. I totally understand why this happens, I know it is backed by love, but I also believe dogs deserve more respect than that, don’t you? 

 

If you are dealing with any sort of aggression issues, you probably need to step up your leadership game. Just sayin’. 

 

Chad Culp - Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine. 

© Thriving Canine 2022 

Please use the links below to follow the whole series for a more complete understanding of the triggers and underlying factors of dog aggression.

Related Topics:

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 1: Tight Leashes

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 2: Hyperactivity and Anxiety 

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 3: Overly Intense Play

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 4: Fear and Anxiety

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 5: Frustration and Agitation

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 6: Obnoxious Submission

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 7: Dominance

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 8: Misreading Social Cues

Triggers and Underlying Causes of Dog Aggression: Part 9: Pain or Stress

 

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